VIFF Film Review: Hadwin's Judgement

Photo: Hadwin's Judgement (

Photo: Hadwin's Judgement (

“There is a legend among the Haida people about a man who emerges from the sea…” a voice recounts as the screen projects aerial views of the remote islands of the Haida Gwaii archipelago. 

Mist envelops the screen. A lone kayaker comes into view, paddling through what seem to be frigid waters; later to be described in the film as some of the most treacherous in the province. The kayaker flips upside down, plunges into the water, and begins to swim.

With this tone, the audience is pulled into the world of Grant Hadwin, the man whose story Sasha Snow poignantly brings to life in his film, Hadwin’s Judgement.

Ironically, timber fallers like Hadwin are some of the last people to see forests in a pristine state. Therein lies his struggle: an expert logger who becomes obsessed with defying logging practices he could not stand for. Hadwin is akin to a tormented John Muir; an extraordinary outdoorsman, a spirit that captivated those around him, and a passionate advocate for the forests he so revered. His crusade ultimately ends in what many describe as a perverse act of terror. Before he could stand trial for what he’s done, Hadwin mysteriously disappears. He was last seen paddling through the waters off the northern British Columbia coastline.

The film complements John Valliant’s bestseller book The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed. Those who read the book will see Valliant’s vivid descriptions of the British Columbian wilderness come to life in the film, as if seeing the forests through Hadwin’s own eyes.  

But the film is not partial to Hadwin. The anger towards his violent attack resonates through the voices of Haida locals. Their own stories of Haida Gwaii paint a picture of life and attachment to their remote, beautiful islands. In their native language, they share the pain they felt because of what Hadwin did.

Whether Hadwin’s actions mounted to righteous or or barbaricty, heultimately left behind a British Columbian legend, still ridden with mystery.

Have there been any sightings of Hadwin? Producer David Christensen described a man who appeared at a previous screening they held in New York. He was around the same age as Hadwin would have been now, bearded, somber, bearing an uncanny resemblance to the character in their film. At the end of the movie he sat with tears in his eyes before ducking out of the theatre.

If you have a passion for nature and an appreciation for a chilling story about British Columbia, you will undoubtedly enjoy Hadwin’s Judgement. 

You can catch the next screening on October 5th at the Vancouver Playhouse, starting at 1:30PM.